“Just make your film. Stop talking about it. Don’t listen to the distracters. There will be people who will discourage you because they can’t do it. Don’t listen to them and just make your film. Write your screenplay! Make a comic book! Do whatever it takes to get your story out into the public!”
Bobby Rubio is the creator of Float, Pixar’s first film featuring Filipino lead characters. Rubio’s career in animation spans over 20 years. He has worked on some of the most iconic animated films and television shows of all time; Avatar: The Last Airbender, Mulan, Pocahontas, Hercules, Inside Out and Incredibles 2– to name a few. Float is Rubio’s directorial debut and part of the inaugural class of Pixar’s SparksShorts. SparkShorts is Pixar’s internal development program launched in 2019 to discover new stories and storytellers. This experimental endeavor has allowed underrepresented artists the opportunity to share their stories with over 24 million Disney+ subscribers.
Rubio’s acceptance into the program came as a surprise. “The submission process for Sparkshorts vary from director to director. I was working on a personal short project and my co-workers suggested that I show my short to Lindsey Collins, the Executive Producer of the SparkShorts. I just set up an appointment to see her, not expecting to get into the program, but just seeking out her advice. She loved the story and felt that it was the perfect candidate for the SparkShorts program! When I was accepted into the program, I was excited for the opportunity to learn the Pixar process of making animated films and I was eager to finally tell my story,” says Bobby.
Float integrated Filipino cultural legacy, creatively and in production. This project featured Filipino representation not only in the director’s chair and on-screen but was produced by Krissy Cababa who is part Filipino. “I loved that Bobby wanted to tell an extremely personal story, from his own life, and his idea was very strong from the start. I knew this story had the potential to be really emotional and to resonate with a lot of different people for many different reasons. And second, I loved that Bobby wanted to feature Filipino Americans in “Float”! Pixar had never done this before, and being part Filipino, I was thrilled to be able to help Bobby bring his story to the screen,” says Krissy.
Talent development programs are critical not only in fostering artistic creativity through experimentation but by presenting opportunities to rise in above-the-line positions. The SparkShorts program allowed Bobby to not only helm his first project but for Krissy to rise and become a producer. “My regular job at Pixar is a couple of steps below producer, so there was quite a lot I was excited to dive into! Float was Bobby’s first project as a director, so one of my main tasks was to make sure that he learned enough about the Pixar pipeline to help the Float artists prioritize their work. I learned a lot about resource management, budgeting, hiring talent, post-production, legal concerns, marketing, and managing an entire crew. But probably the most rewarding aspect of producing Float was the close collaboration with Bobby, as we worked daily making big and small decisions to try to make the film better,” says Krissy.
Studio development programs are invaluable in increasing female representation in animation. Of the 120 top animated films released between 2007 and 2018, 37% (n=91 of 249) of producers were women. Only 5% (n=12) of all producers were women of color. Krissy hopes to, “see more stories from all underrepresented groups, which includes stories focusing on women and girls. I’d love to see more stories told from a non-Western perspective. And I’d really love to see stories that help us all learn something to push society forward: stories that teach us empathy, collaboration, and valuing differences in all its forms.”
There are profound increases in representation when positions associated with creative direction (screenwriters, directors, producers, etc.) are helmed by people of color. Films with an Asian director increased speaking or named Asian characters on screen by nearly 35%. Comprehensive studies continue to show that increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content. In fact, Asian American households are the most likely to have access to subscription video services. As streaming services continue to takeover traditional mediums, investment in artists of color is imperative.
Reception to this groundbreaking film has been profound. Not only is this film a poignant metaphor for autism, but it also spotlights the importance of quality representation of Asian Americans in our media. Rubio says, “The most meaningful reactions that I’ve gotten from my short, are the ones where people felt they were seen and represented for the first time! Feeling ‘different’ is a universal feeling. I am grateful and happy to have messages like ‘I finally see some Filipino representation!’ and ‘As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I finally feel seen and not alone.’ I’m so thrilled the short has resonated with so many people and has brought about positive conversations about acceptance, love, and celebration of our differences.” Hopefully, this development initiative will open more opportunities for artists of color not only at Pixar but across the industry. Krissy says, “one thing I hope Float can do, not just for Asians but for all underrepresented groups, is to help foster the understanding that we have just as many stories to tell as any other group and that our stories are equally worthy. We have family and cultural history that’s rich, engaging, and emotional, and we can be the stars of our own stories, whether those stories are culturally specific or not. I’d also love to see more Asians behind the camera, in all creative roles, and in the executive offices.”
Float has inspired Asian filmmakers who dream of making a Pixar film to believe in the impossible. Bobby hopes that his film influences aspiring Asian filmmakers to write characters that, “showcase their culture! I hope that Float inspires that kid sitting in his living room and looks up to see a character that looks like him/her to feel empowered and inspire them to tell their stories from their unique own perspectives!”
Platforms like Disney+ emphasize how the digital scripted arena presents some of the largest gains for women and people of color. I hope, preferably sooner than later we see a full-length Pixar film featuring Asian Americans.
FUN FACT: Float went through many changes, “One example is the father originally was going to sink into the ground, while Alex floats in the air. I was trying to show that the dad was going through a depression. The problem came when people thought that the dad had superpowers and was also “special.” I changed that part of the story because only Alex should be “special” and dad is a “normal” guy in this extraordinary situation. The whole point of the story is the father must love and come to accept his son’s “difference.” By giving the dad a power, that would make him “different” too and that is not the story that I wanted to tell.”–Bobby Rubio
Watch Float now on Disney+